Fallout 4: Review

Introduction

Fallout 4 is my first experience with the Fallout franchise. So far, I love the game. I don’t have the nostalgia that some of my friends have experienced while playing, but it holds up almost as well without that previous experience. Except for some significant flaws in player guidance.

TL;DR Review

I love the game. It has some issues, but I love it.

Play It If:

  • you like post-apocalyptic settings
  • you’re looking for a FPS, but you’re not usually into playing FPSs
  • you’ve liked other games in the series or the Elder Scrolls franchise

Skip It If:

  • blood really bothers you (though there may be a way to turn this off, or at least down)
  • you don’t want to spend many, many hours playing
  • you want something linear

image from fallout.wikia.com

Story

I haven’t “beat” Fallout 4 yet, but I decided to go ahead and write this review, because if it’s anything like Skyrim turned out to be, I’ll forever be side-questing and never finish the story. What I can say is, so far so good. I like the parent on a mission to find his/her son element. It gets me right in the gut, since Logan and I often talk about having kids in the future.

I’m also enjoying the themes of time the game explores. The passage of time is central to the conflict in the story and has gotten me thinking a lot about aging, experience, and our own mortality.

Setting

The setting of Fallout 4 is downright depressing, but hey, what are you gonna do? It is the aftermath of a nuclear attack, after all.

That being said, the game is beautiful, in its way. There’s a great sense of freedom and space, despite the destruction present all around. I’ve occasionally found myself walking for the hell of it, just to see how far I could go in one direction. Every time it’s been enemies that are too tough that forced me to change my course, not an impassable landmark or invisible wall.

image from gamespot.com

When exploring cities and settlements, this sense of openness remains. Most buildings can be explored, many of which are their own instances, leading into a world all their own. Even the towns themselves feel like miniature worlds, with back alleys and hidey-holes galore.

Characters

Populating this world are a huge number of interesting characters. There are tons of named characters with unique dialog that often offer side jobs to earn caps and gear, but even the generic settlers and other unnamed characters offer interesting interactions. I’ve started many a mission just by eavesdropping on two unnamed characters or stopping to listen to a random guard who shouted out.

And don’t even get me started on the character creator in Fallout 4. Holy cow. That thing can get super-detailed. I love creating characters and spent an obscenely long time altering my avatar’s features and playing around with various hair and makeup combinations. But for those who aren’t as obsessive as I am about getting their character just right, there are more general customization options as well.

image from techraptor.net

I was also impressed with the customization available through the flexible leveling system. I have very little experience with the other games in the Fallout franchise, so I’m not sure if it works the same as in previous editions or not, but the SPECIAL system paired with the perks chart is a great way to go about character leveling. Once base stats are at the required level for specific perks, those perks can be chosen regardless of whether the perks higher up in the tree have been selected or not. I love not having to take perks I don’t want in order to take perks that I do.

perks

That being said, it took me way too long to figure out the leveling system, and I’m peeved at the lack of explanation. To me, the perks didn’t look open from the beginning of the game, and I kept throwing points into my SPECIAL stats in an attempt to unlock perks. Turns out, they were open and I spent a lot of points in a way that I wouldn’t have if I’d known how to properly use the perk system. I consider the lack of explanation of the perk system to be a major flaw in the game.

Gameplay

Overall, the gameplay is solid. The controls work well, and if they aren’t quite right, many (if not all) the controls are re-mappable. The Pip Boy interface is easy to navigate and has just the right amount of data to get the information you need without a ton of stuff that you don’t. Plus, you can change the color of the display, which is totally unnecessary, but I love it. (Mine’s hot pink, just so you know.)

Despite the controls and features working well, the game doesn’t explain them. I’ve experienced a lot of frustration because I wasn’t able to figure out how to do something I was pretty positive I should be able to, and have turned to the Internet a number of times to look things up. This bothers me because I usually avoid looking anything up about the games I’m playing and I feel it’s bad game design when a player feels forced to do so to learn how to use different features or perform various actions.

And the actions I was forced to look up aren’t situational or obscure. The first thing I looked up was how to put away my weapon. This isn’t a trivial act because the AI reacts differently depending on whether your weapon is drawn or not. I was walking into settlements with my guns drawn, and the people were – understandably – hostile. Or at least more cautious and less willing to talk than they otherwise would have been.

The other major action I simply couldn’t figure out on my own was the flashlight feature. I didn’t know turning your Pip Boy into a flashlight was an option at all and wouldn’t have thought to look for it if I hadn’t run across it when looking up how to put away my weapon. Being able to use a flashlight was a major game changer, since a lot of the areas in the game are too dark to find things without the flashlight.

image from YouTube.com
There’s a whole YouTube video for turning the flashlight on.

The justification I’ve seen for this lack of explanation is that the controls are the same as the controls in earlier Fallout games. But I’ve never played the other Fallout games, so I was lost. I don’t feel that I should be penalized because I don’t have previous experience with the franchise. Sure, I was able to look up the answers to my questions online, but good game design wouldn’t force me to do so. And, judging from Google’s ability to auto-fill exactly what I was looking for, I’m not the only one who experienced problems figuring out some of the controls.

I’ve also experienced some issues with a couple of the quests bugging, but so far each has been fixed just by saving and reloading the game. Hopefully I don’t experience any more bugging, but if I do, I hope it continues to be as easily fixed. It’s certainly nothing like the bugging issues I had with Skyrim.

Final Thoughts

I’m glad I got Fallout 4. It has already given me hours of entertainment and is on track to provide many more. Despite its flaws, it’s a great game that I would recommend to nearly anyone.
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